Institute Benjamenta (1995)

INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA

INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA

or This Dream People Call Human Life

Gottfried John / Alice Krige / Mark Rylance / Daniel Smith / Joseph Alessi / Jonathan Stone / Ceasar Sarachu / Peter Lovstrom / Uri Roodner / Based on the novel ‘Jakob von Gunten’ by Robert Walser / Art Direction Alison Riva / Costume Design Nicky Gillbrand / Production Design Jennifer Kernke / Editor Larry Sider / Original Soundtrack Lech Jankowski / Producer Karl Baumgartner / Directors The Quay Brothers

The thing about the Brothers Quay, is that their films can be taken in two quite different, though equally legitimate ways. That is, as deeply profound pieces, with a haunting intensity of perception.. or a collection of disparate moments that ultimately mean sod all.. either way, the result is beautiful and sublime. To be honest, on the whole I’ve never been all that keen on their stop-frame shorts, as blasphemous as that is to admit, given the brothers iconic status in the animation world, but they’re just a little too pretentious for my liking.  That brand of Eastern European animation was pretty draining even in it’s original form, let alone in regurgitated homage. You just know the Quay boys collected milk-bottle tops, went into rhapsodies over spinning toys and purposefully broke the keys on the family piano, just to delight in off notes. Institute Benjamenta uses some of the same imagery and stop-frame effects, but manages to work in harmony with the actors, and resonates with a steady rhythm that is quite hypnotic, weaving a dream-like sensation that both embraces and disturbs  in equal fashion.

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We enter the Institute with Gottfried John, who seeks to learn ‘the divine duty of the servant’, along with a band of oddball potential butlers and waiters. The high point of the film is Alice Krige (yes, ST:TNG’s Borg Queen) as the incredibly sensuous Headmistress, dressed in pure white corset and a quite worrying riding crop that appears to be made from a goat’s hoof. Krige floats about her scenes with a preternatural grace, small traces of ecstatic electricity emerging in flickers across her powerfully emotive features.. or are they almost blank? Odd how those two are so closely realated.  There’s a quite direct link to Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl, with it’s sado-masachistic-lesbian Fraulein,  holding sway over The Home for Lost Girls’. Whilst Pabst chose the Avant-garde dancer Valeska Gert for the role (probably the single most disturbing performance of the entire Silent period), here in contrast we have the strikingly beautiful Alice Krige (though no less disturbing a force). The Brothers Quay clearly reference Pabst, but change the dynamic somewhat by making the pupils male, and somewhat complicit in their subordinacy to this dominatrix. Also add in for good measure, a dash or two of both the 1931 Maedchen in Uniform, and it’s ’58 remake with Romy Schneider.. ‘What is it’s strange appeal? Why does it stir the emotions?’

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There’s very little point in overanalysing much more of the plot, other than to say that we journey into the labyrinthine bowels of the Institute, and weave about the increasingly palpable eroticism of Alice Krige’s performance. It’s a prose piece that dwells in a continual dreamstate, the world glimpsed giddily through an eternally smokey filter.. how do the Brothers Quay put it? Oh, yes,  through ‘a dusty window pane.’ The lighting really is exquisite, showing a subtlety that Pabst and Josef von Sternberg would have applauded, treating Alice Krige like a flood-lit Louise Brooks, or a stoic Dietrich, whilst stepping into a Victorian box of curiosities.

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‘I should never let myself be rescued.. nor shall I ever rescue anybody.’

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‘The divine duty of servants..’

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‘Sometimes more life dwells in the opening of a door than in a question. Past and future circle about us. Now we know more.. now we know less.’

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STILLS


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The Quay Brothers

Atonement (2007) : Imagery

Atonement - Lobby

ATONEMENT : Smoke & Mirrors

James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gina McKee, Romola Garai, Juno Temple, Brenda Blethyn, Alfie Allen, Patrick Kennedy, Vanessa Redgrave / From the novel by Ian McEwan / Soundtrack  Dario Marianelli /  Editing Paul Tothill / Art Direction Ian Bailie / Production Design Sarah Greenwood / Cinematography Seamus McGarvey / Production Tim Bevan / Director Joe Wright

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Despite the Surgeon General’s wise warnings, cigarettes are a wonderful visual tool. Film Noir must have smoked it’s collective way through enough tobacco to block out the sun, but modern cinema likes it’s products nicotine free these days.. Lauren Bacall may have looked sexy mouthing clouds of chesterfield’s finest floating into strategically placed spotlights, but you won’t catch Nicole or Cate puffing on a roll-up. The old jiggery-pokery of smoke and mirrors to enhance the beauty of the modern Dietrichs & Garbos has been replaced with CGI & madame botox. Atonement marks a comforting return to form though, bathing Keira Knightley in luxuriantly defiant monsoons of haze. And though it’s not at all difficult to make Keira look appealing on film, the loss in clarity is an apt visual metaphor. The entire story is distorted through the narrator’s eyes, from both her youthful perceptions of events, to her adult, selective recollections of the past. So the filtering of visuals through smoke, mirrors, glass, water.. add to the film’s dreamlike character, painting an ever shifting picture, dropping in and out of focus at heights of sensuality, or obscuring views where details are less than certain.

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There is of course an attempt to be authentic to the time period by including these smoking scenes, as with the machine gun delivery of the speech (if Keira sounds at all unbelievable, listen to Celia Johnson in either ‘Brief Encounter’ or ‘In Which we Serve’ to convince), but above all it’s more of a stylistic devise. Keira’s long, tapering, art nouveau fingers, and angular looks lend themselves so well to such Pre-Raphaelite displays, reminiscent of the young Katherine Hepburn, and neatly slipping into Helena Bonham Carter’s Period drama shoes. I’ll not bother to go into the whole phallic argument with regards to cigarettes, as it really is a tired old simplistic observation.

‘Sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar’.

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Smoke & Mirrors 1

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‘The 1935 section of the film has a fairytale quality to it. The reds are very red, there’s a magical quality to it, and a part of that is emphasising Briony’s imagination. Briony is very much a character who lives in her own head. She’s a writer, she’s constantly inventing stories and she puts all the people around her into those stories, and that’s when tragedy occurs.The 30s and 40s were the pinnacle of the stiff upper lip and that very famous British emotional repression, and it was really interesting to look at that with Cecilia. She can’t express what she’s feeling, and therefore this rage is constantly bubbling underneath her which explodes, perhaps, in the library scene [she smiles]. It had to be incredibly erotic and passionate because you have to believe that these people waited three years without seeing each other based on that moment. It was incredibly important that you get that tension between Cecilia and Robbie because it’s certainly not really spoken about, it’s about what’s not being said..’

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY BBC INTERVIEW 2007

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Fountain lily


STILLS & PRODUCTION

(i)

(ii)

Smoking Promo Angular Knightley Pool suit Pool production photo 1 Pool production photo 2

Pool production photo 3 Pool production photo 4

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TRAILER

The New Wave preoccupation with the cigarette..